Study Overview

The Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis is a holistic and customer-centric assessment of RTD’s current fare structure and pass programs. RTD is exploring changes to its fare structure and pass programs to make using bus and rail service more equitable, affordable and simple.

Unlike previous fare studies, this study is not required to achieve specific fare revenue targets. However, as with all fare studies, fare decisions will impact ridership and fare revenue and those impacts will be considered in evaluating trade-offs among fare structure alternatives. As part of this study, RTD will be evaluating the implications of lowering fare revenue targets to accomplish broader goals related to affordability and ridership.

Since RTD last reviewed and made changes to its fare structure in 2019, RTD has received customer and stakeholder feedback that fares and pass programs are too expensive and complicated. RTD had also experienced a decline in ridership since 2014, a trend that was severely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the customer base has been changing, with more customers relying on transit as a primary source of mobility.  

The Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis is an effort to respond by evaluating RTD’s fare structure with a focus on making fares more equitable, affordable and simple and rebuilding ridership.  

Equity and Community Feedback

A more equitable fare structure is the leading goal of the Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis. This goal will be pursued through partnerships with community-based organizations, inclusive communications and outreach and evaluation of the impacts of fare structure alternatives on protected populations throughout the study process. 

To achieve this goal, RTD will be:  

  • Actively engaging underrepresented populations through partnerships with community-based organizations, including focus groups conducted by RTD’s community partners. 

  • Promoting inclusivity by conducting customer and community meetings in Spanish and ensuring the availability of language assistance, including translation of the study website and surveys.  

  • Convening an Equity Feedback Panel, which will use customer and community input to provide feedback on how RTD’s fare structure may be made more equitable.  

  • Conducting fare equity analyses of the fare structure alternatives utilizing RTD’s Title VI Policies and in accordance with the Federal Transit Administration’s guidance and Title VI Circular.  

The Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis is structured to obtain and use customer and community feedback in identifying and evaluating potential fare structure alternatives. Feedback from customers and community members will be gathered at key milestones throughout the study. Engagement activities include customer and community meetings, focus groups conducted by community partners and surveys. This feedback will be used by the study team to inform its technical analysis. 

In addition to informing the technical analysis, this customer and community feedback will be synthesized and shared with the three Feedback Panels. These Feedback Panels are tasked with using customer and community input to provide feedback to RTD on how to meet the study goals, fulfill customer and community needs and balance trade-offs among all goals and needs. 

Community-based organizations throughout the RTD service area will be integral to the success of the Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis. RTD has formed contracts with six community-based organizations. These organizations will serve as community partners, helping engage underrepresented populations. These community partners will host focus groups with their communities to better understand customer experiences and gather feedback on how to achieve the study’s goals and obtain feedback on fare structure alternatives. The community partners will also help in promoting other study engagement opportunities. 

The three Feedback Panels will consider customer and community input and balance the trade-offs among the three study goals and customer and community needs. The three Feedback Panels represent large groups of stakeholders, including marginalized communities, organizations participating in RTD’s pass programs and formal local jurisdictions. The Feedback Panels will meet following each of the three customer and community engagement milestones to ensure that the Feedback Panels are using customer input in considering RTD’s best options to address and balance customer and community input and all perspectives. 

Technical Analysis

The Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis is analyzing a variety of data sources to understand travel patterns among RTD customers. These sources include surveys of customers and non-customers, including Customer Satisfaction Surveys, Origin and Destination Surveys, LiVE Program Survey, and surveys conducted as part of this study and other recent studies, such as Reimagine RTD. In addition to survey data, we are compiling and analyzing fare product sales data and ridership data. These data sources provide insight into fare product choices, frequency of transit use, and other demographic data that will be valuable in evaluating fare structure alternatives and assessing tradeoffs among alternatives. 

Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative assessments, the Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis will evaluate how well fare structure alternatives achieve the study goals to make fares more equitable, affordable and simple. The study will also consider the ridership, fare revenue, and equity impacts of each alternative by conducting fare modeling and fare equity analyses. 

Fare modeling estimates the potential ridership and revenue impacts of each fare structure alternative. The fare model assesses how different pricing and policy alternatives impact specific customer groups. Combined with demographic data, modeling results inform the fare equity analyses, identifying the customers that benefit and those that are adversely affected by each fare structure alternative.  

In accordance with RTD’s Title VI Policies and the Federal Transit Administration Title VI Circular, the fare equity analyses will evaluate whether the proposed changes result in a Disparate Impact on minority populations (those identified by race, color, or national origin) or Disproportionate Burden on low-income populations and will identify mitigations if needed. While the Federal Transit Administration in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires a full fare equity analysis only on the final recommendation, conducting preliminary analyses on viable fare structure alternatives will help in comparing alternatives and how well they promote a more equitable fare structure.  

Fare Revenue and Funding Sources

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, fare revenue represented between 15 to 20 percent of RTD’s operating budget. If this revenue were reduced substantially or eliminated, RTD would need to cut service to make up for lost revenue.

The primary source of revenue for RTD is sales and use tax, which typically accounts for 55 to 65 percent of RTD’s annual budgeted revenue.

The farebox recovery ratio is the percentage of transit operating expenses that are covered by revenues from transit fares.  

Prior to 2021, RTD was required to maintain a 30% cost recovery ratio, which included depreciation in addition to operating expenses, and report cost recovery results in accordance with Senate Bill 89-154. With the passage of House Bill 21-1186 in 2021 RTD is no longer required to maintain a cost recovery ratio. 

House Bill 21-1186 relieves RTD of some statutory restrictions related to the District's operations. Removing the cost recovery requirement provides greater budgetary flexibility for setting fares. 

The bill also repealed limitations on the District's authority to charge fees and manage parking at District parking facilities. 

Fare Structure, Service Changes, and Other Policy Considerations

The Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis will consider how fare structure alternatives impact fare revenue in the short term and RTD’s longer term financial sustainability. Understanding the trade-offs between fares and service will be an important consideration in evaluating alternatives. If there are trade-offs between fare revenue and RTD’s ability to sustain service levels, they will be highlighted in the evaluation of the fare structure alternatives. 

Fare capping, which enables a customer to pay towards a Day or Monthly Pass in single trip increments, requires the use of an electronic fare collection system that is capable of tracking fares paid.  

RTD is in the process of implementing a new fare collection system. This new account-based ticketing system, which will leverage RTD’s current mobile ticketing and introduce a new smart card, will introduce new capabilities including fare capping. This will help make fares more equitable and affordable for customers by eliminating the upfront cost of a Monthly Pass and enabling customers to pay towards the monthly fare cap over the course of the month. Since the fare collection system will calculate the appropriate fare, fare capping will also simplify fare payment for customers transferring between services with Local and Regional fares and/or purchasing a Day Pass. 

Going completely fare free (also referred to as zero fare) would require a new substantial ongoing funding source in order to maintain RTD’s current service levels or increase service. While the study is unlikely to consider going entirely zero fare, it may consider offering free fares to a subset of customers, in particular equity populations. 

House Bill 21-1186, in addition to giving RTD greater budgetary flexibility for setting fares, removes restrictions on RTD’s ability to charge fees and manage parking at District parking facilities. However, at this time, there are not any plans to change parking fees as part of the Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis. 

Alternatives and recommendations could include changes to the fare structure, products, fares, and/or discounts. RTD and its consultant team are still exploring fare structure options and other policy changes that will be informed by the feedback received during customer, community and stakeholder engagements in April and May 2022. As the study progresses, conceptual options and fare structure alternatives will be shared to obtain customer, community and stakeholder feedback over the summer and fall.  

RTD’s EcoPass, Neighborhood EcoPass and CollegePass promote ridership and have historically generated a notable share of RTD’s fare revenue. Many transit agencies throughout the United States continue to replicate RTD’s pass programs based on the successes experienced in the Denver region. The Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis is not anticipated to make dramatic changes to these pass programs or eliminate the pass programs. However, any changes to the broader fare structure and pricing will have a direct impact on fares and consequently pass program pricing. Further, some improvements to the programs may be considered to promote equity and achieve other study goals. 

Customer and Community Participation

There are multiple ways to participate in the Systemwide Fare Study and Equity Analysis. Three engagements will be held over the course of the study to gather feedback on the current fare structure and evaluate trade-offs among potential alternatives. These will include customer and community meetings (in the spring, summer and fall of 2022) as well as two surveys (in the spring and fall 2022) that will be posted online and promoted through emails, newsletters and social media. In addition, a formal public comment and hearing process will be conducted in early 2023 on the recommendations. 

If you have questions or additional comments, you can send an email to the study team at [email protected], submit a comment on the study website at https://www.rtd-denver.com/farestudy or call the RTD Customer Care team at 303.299.6000. 

You can also sign up for study updates and notifications of engagement opportunities on the study website at https://www.rtd-denver.com/farestudy. 


If you would like to change the RTD Fare Study site to your desired language, please open the corresponding PDF guide.


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Language Assistance

RTD is undertaking a systemwide fare study to evaluate its fares. Your participation and feedback are welcomed. Language assistance services are provided at no cost. If you would like more information, please call 303.292.2051 or email [email protected]